The normally erudite, soft-spoken and well-mannered Alabama-born actress Polly Holliday had accumulated quite an extensive theater background by the time she hit it big on 70s TV as the brash, uninhibited, gum-cracking waitress Florence Jean Castleberry (Flo for short) on the popular sitcom Alice (1976).
As a long and respected member of the Asolo Repertory Company in Sarasota, Florida, Polly had toiled long and hard to disguise her Southern twang while building up a sturdy classical reputation. At the same time, she taught music in the city’s elementary schools. When she won the role of Flo in 1976, however, she let all four burners out as the scene-stealing Southern-baked hash-slinger who delightfully redefined trailer park trash. The two-time Golden Globe winner and Emmy-nominated actress hit it so big with fans (she introduced the catch phrase, “Kiss mah grits!” to the American vernacular) that she earned her own spin-off, aptly titled Flo (1980). The show barely lasted one season despite another Emmy-nomination for her.
Polly lost major clout after the show’s cancellation and, to avoid typecasting, she stayed out of the television limelight while appearing in regional theater. She won renewed respect and critical notice for her Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, her Tony-nominated turn as Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and for her part as the lonely small-town schoolteacher in Picnic in 1994. From time to time she has taken on flashy roles in both comic and dramatic films, such as the old crank who meets a freakish end in Gremlins (1984), and on TV wherein she briefly replaced Eileen Brennan in the series Private Benjamin (1981) after Ms. Brennan’s near-fatal car accident in 1982. Though Polly never recaptured the dazzling success of her Alice (1976) years, she has continued at a healthy pace — primarily in guest spots where she plays wise and opinionated mothers and grandmothers.
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